Boxing needs to be cleaned up
Appeal Sports Writer
If you’ve been following boxing news lately, perhaps you are one of those people feeling hopeful because of the recent passage by the Senate Commerce Committee of an amendment to the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, which was later amended and renamed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000.
This latest amendment is designed to create a federal boxing commission, which would regulate boxing in the United States. This bill is championed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The bill is also supported by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The Ali Act, it should be remembered, was designed to reform unfair and anticompetitive practices in the professional boxing industry.
Translation: Some politicians and lawmakers wanted to protect professional boxers, the most exploited athletes in the world, from unscrupulous promoters, managers and sanctioning bodies.
Before you high-five your fellow boxing fans and do a victory dance in the streets, take a few minutes and observe the boxing landscape today.
In spite of the presence of the Ali Act, the sport of boxing has never been unhealthier. Given its sordid history – not the least of which includes its past involvement with organized crime – that’s saying a lot.
This is the same sport that was once so corrupt that one of boxing’s greatest champions – Jake LaMotta – had to take a dive in order to finally get his middleweight title shot in 1949.
This is the same sport that saw IBF president Bobby Lee indicted in November, 1999 for accepting money from managers and promoters so his organization would approve rankings and title shots for their fighters.
This is the same sport that currently has four major sanctioning bodies – the IBF, WBC, WBA and WBO – that govern boxing’s 17 weight divisions. These are the same characters that will ignore the fact that there is not one world, but four “world” champions at each weight division.
This is tantamount to saying there are four Super Bowl champions each year.
But that’s giving them too much credit. There are currently three world cruiserweight champions recognized by the WBA alone: “super” champion O’Neil Bell, “regular” champion Virgil Hill and “interim” champion Valery Brudov.
That Ali Act sure has done wonders, hasn’t it?
That’s because the act has no enforcement provision. It, to use the tired phrase, is a toothless bill.
To put this absurdity in its proper context, imagine if there wasn’t an enforcement provision for dealing crack cocaine. There would be a law out there saying that selling crack is illegal and that certain penalties would be incurred for those that peddle the stuff.
But, without an enforcement provision, there would be no Drug Enforcement Agency – or any agency – to arrest crack dealers. No arrest, no court, no imprisonment. Just an empty bill that would make crack dealers laugh.
Welcome to the world of professional boxing.
Sure, if a boxer has enough money he can sue his promoter and manager. If he wants to sue a sanctioning body, let’s see if that organization ever ranks him again. No ranking equals no title shot. No title shot equals no money.
But you can bet the sanctioning bodies make their money. In a title fight they take three percent of every champion’s and every title challenger’s purse.
Let’s take the WBC, for example. If Oscar De La Hoya makes $20 million to fight Floyd Mayweather, who makes $10 million, three percent of $30 million equals $900,000 to the organization.
If the WBC is like the IBF, it has around a dozen active members on its board. Nine hundred thousand dollars for a night’s work and the guys in the WBC don’t even take a punch. Nice work – if you can get it.
Now take 17 weight divisions per organization – in the WBA’s case, sometimes three champions per division – and factor in all of the regional belts (NABO, NABF, USBA, etc.) and junior belts (the WBC junior heavyweight belt, for instance). Do the math.
Who wants to be a promoter if you can start up your own sanctioning body?
If this latest bill passes, what are its ramifications? It’s a United States boxing commission. Last time I checked, boxing is a worldwide sport. The IBF may be in New Jersey, but the WBC is in Mexico, the WBA is in Venezuela and the WBO is in Puerto Rico.
There may be such elucidating language on this bill that defines what a boxer is, but what is it going to do about rogue sanctioning bodies worldwide with no enforcement provision?
I hear optimists out there saying, “Hey, it’s a first step.” “You have to start somewhere.” “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And so forth.
But consider this. Before you get behind Sen. Reid, for instance, do a little research.
You probably already know he recently dodged a bullet for accepting free ringside tickets from the Nevada State Athletic Commission – to see how things were done, that is. Like Reid, a former boxer, has no experience, mind you.
In reporter Jack Newfield’s March 24, 2000, article in the New York Post – “Don Sent Senate Hit Man to KO McCain Boxing Bill” – the late Newfield had some interesting things to say about Mr. Reid.
Newfield, it should be mentioned, wrote perhaps the finest investigative book on boxing – “The Life and Crimes of Don King.”
But perhaps Newfield’s biggest revalation was what happened when the Ali Act went before the Senate. Newfield wrote that he discovered Reid, ostensibly one of the most concerned champions for the sport of boxing, was one of two Senators who, on Nov. 19, 1999, used an esoteric Senate law to put a hold on the bill after it had passed the Senate and the House and was about to become law.
On the Senate’s Congressional Record, H.R. 1832 was listed on the Measures Placed on the Calendar. Then absolutely nothing more in the official record is written.
“Strange” was a word I often heard from courthouse clerks who assisted me in my research. Another shared observation was, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In April 2000, following the Reid Amendment and the McCain Amendment, the bill became law.
A whole lot of good it has done for boxing – and my lack of optimism concerning the sport. Without an enforcement provision, any talk of any new amendment is meaningless.
Where Congress is concerned, I don’t believe in heroes. Neither should you.